The tobacco industry spends millions of dollars on marketing to increase tobacco consumption, particularly among youth. With more than 267 million tobacco users in India, a new digital platform from global health organization Vital Strategies identifies tobacco marketing and provides data that strengthen efforts to protect kids and consumers through smart tobacco control policies. The Tobacco Enforcement and Reporting Movement (TERM) provides a digital tool to regularly monitor and track tobacco marketing via online conversations, news, social media and media coverage.
As COVID-19 underscores the tobacco threat in India, TERM’s unique monitoring and crowdsourcing features will enable governments and health authorities to identify the extent of tobacco marketing and take measured steps to respond to it. During the month of May 2021, over 850 instances of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorships (TAPS) online were reported. Despite the World Health Organization’s recommended ban or restrictions on TAPS, and even though all forms are prohibited in India, tobacco marketing continues to be widespread, particularly via online channels, which are less regulated than traditional media such as radio and television.
Vaishakhi Mallik, Associate Director, South Asia said, “Tobacco kills nearly one in two users, but to this day advertising, promotion and sponsorship normalize tobacco. With the rise of social media and digital marketing, India’s youth have worryingly become a lucrative market for the tobacco industry. TERM empowers the public to help counter industry efforts and protect youth by calling out illicit or predatory marketing. For the first time, government agencies and civil society will get actionable insights of surrogate advertisements and other tobacco promotions, giving them a novel data source to track TAPS instances and hold the industry accountable.”
TERM has two objectives—enabling the public to be aware of tobacco companies’ marketing and promotional tactics while also reporting such instances through the ongoing Facebook campaign. The platform also equips governments with information that highlights the tobacco industry’s marketing tactics that hamper tobacco control efforts as well as information to enforce TAPS compliance.
Dr Rana J Singh, Deputy Regional Director, International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease said, “We congratulate Vital Strategies for this first-of-its-kind resource to track online marketing instances of tobacco. The data from the TERM platform will allow the Union and many of our partners to examine which loopholes are being exploited and manipulated by the tobacco industry. This, in turn, will support our efforts to strengthen and enforce tobacco control measures, helping policy implementers with evidence-based proof of surrogate and indirect advertising. Such evidence lends credibility to tobacco control programs, which can then enable policy action, stakeholder involvement, and greater enforcement towards a tobacco free India.”
TERM launched as a Facebook campaign page in 2019 and has expanded into a digital crowdsourcing tool with situational reports. These reports categorize instances of tobacco marketing according to their volume, the state in which they occur, message content, and the channel.
From January to May 2021 the following trends were observed:
- 4,222 total marketing instances were logged.
- Of the total observed marketing on social media platforms, 48% was on Facebook, 34% on Instagram, 13% on Twitter, 4% on YouTube and 1% on news sites.
- Most of the marketing instances are indirect—through surrogate advertising, sponsored events and promotions. In May 2021, 94% of the marketing was indirect, and 5% was direct.
- For both smokeless and smoking products, most of the observed marketing was timed to coincide with community celebrations and festivals.
- Marketing instances were reported from West Bengal (54%), followed by Uttar Pradesh (32%), Rajasthan (10%), Maharashtra (3%) and Karnataka (2%).
- In May, 62% of marketing instances were for smoking tobacco products and 38% for smokeless tobacco products. There was an increase of 2.7% in the marketing of smoking products in May compared to previous months in 2021